The Concept of Human Security

The concept of human security emerged in 1994 when the United Nations published its Human Development Report. Human security is a paradigm based on the idea that humanity should be the proper referent for security, serving as an alternative to national and international security. According to this approach, security should not merely focus on questions of military and diplomacy, but also on issues of food security, health security, and environmental security (Naylor 3). Concerns of human security, such as food, health, and environment, are closely interconnected global issues, so it is essential to explain and address them in equal measure.

Food Security

Hunger is one of the crucial problems human security is concerned with, as hundreds of millions of people in different parts of the world suffer from chronic malnutrition that causes infectious diseases, poor concentration, physical and mental disabilities. Food security means “having adequate supplies of affordable food throughout the year to ensure healthy and productive life” (Naylor 7). It is based on four elements: availability, access, utilization, and stability. Natural disasters, agricultural pests, and epidemics are responsible for the lack of food in rural areas, while urban areas might be affected by an increase in food prices and instability in the labor market.

Even though farmers produce enough food to feed the world’s population, 821 million people cannot afford adequate diets and are undernourished, while 672 million of people are obese (FAO, IFAD, UNICEF, WFP and WHO 2). Undernutrition and obesity coexist in many countries. Food security is tied to other kinds of security. Solving the problem of food insecurity may involve working with other issues as well, such as climate change and property rights for land. The global food system is tightly linked; therefore, changes in agricultural practices in one country can affect food security in many others. In some countries, food and economic security are achieved at the expense of environmental security.

Food insecurity poses a threat to national security, as civil wars break out in poor states affected by the hunger as well as other factors, such as disease and unemployment. The lack of food supply and high prices might cause citizens to revolt against the state, as happened in Tunisia and Egypt in 2010 (Naylor 361). Moreover, food production is an instrument of national power allowing countries such as the United States and Russia to be self-sufficient and to have an advantage over other states. In Israel, for instance, there is a policy of food self-sufficiency that is vital for a country inhabiting the small territory, with a challenging environment and hostile neighbors (362). The examples above illustrate how the national security mindset is prevailing in many countries. By protecting their food supply, the countries ignore the fact that their national security policies might be helpful or harmful for other nations. Thus, not national, but rather human security policies on food are necessary to provide people worldwide with safe, nutritious, and sufficient food all year round.

Health Security

Health is the most basic and vital asset of an individual and a fundamental part of human rights. The right to health is one of the concerns of human security. World Health Organization (WHO), created in 1946 to deal with issues of health, defines it as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity” (OHCHR 1). WHO and the Human Rights Council implemented the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, which helped clarify the nature of health security and the ways of its achievement.

During the 20th century, efforts to improve health and stop the disease through vaccinations and antibiotics significantly improved global health. It was hoped that such advances in medicine would stop health threats to human security. However, in a globalized world of the 21st-century, factors contributing to health insecurity have been reviewed and now include population growth, changes in human habitation, and environment. The relations between health and human security led to the purpose of improving health and national efforts to public health. (Matthew).

Preventive measures, rather than reactive efforts, are essential for ensuring health security. For example, distribution of bed nets in developing countries of Africa, South America, and Asia can help fight malaria by preventing the spread of disease, while it is also cheaper and more effective than the treatment. In developed countries, obesity, which is also a concern of food security, has led to the promotion of a healthy lifestyle and nutrition, as the health costs skyrocketed, putting a financial burden on individuals and governments. Therefore, improving human health and well-being may, in its turn, positively affect other areas of human security.

Environmental Security

Environmental conditions have always been the critical determinants of human security, as animals, pathogens, and natural disasters caused mortality and social disruption. Whereas people of the modern world live longer than ever before, increased production and consumption of goods caused environmental change with its negative impacts. Deforestation, loss of biodiversity, pollution, and climate change are global problems with global consequences. The data retrieved by the United Nations Development Program shows that “the wealthiest 20 percent of the world’s population consumes 84 percent of all paper, 45 percent of all meat and fish, and owns 87 percent of the world’s vehicles” (Matthew 4).

Human security should be a concern of states who need to protect the economic and environmental stability of its citizens, providing them with opportunities to develop and feel safe, improving the economy and fighting poverty. The risk to national security is of dual nature, as it may be a cause or a consequence of human insecurity. In the case of New Orleans devastated by Hurricane Katrina, human actions resulted in greenhouse warming that caused an increase in storm activity and major hurricanes. Specific social groups proved to be vulnerable to the natural disaster, as the poor and the aged were left behind in shelters in unhealthy conditions or in their ruined homes without any supplies (Matthew). Government unpreparedness and social inequalities caused the dreadful outcomes of the disaster. As a result, Hurricane Katrina indicated the need for urgent measures to deal with natural disasters and vulnerable populations, following the reforms and amendments to existing human security policies in areas of flood protection and hurricane recovery in the U.S.

Overall, human security is a multi-faceted paradigm involving a number of closely related issues of food, health, and environment security. Such circumstances require a complex approach, as it is impossible to offer solutions to one of these problems without affecting the others. The universal nature of human security makes it important for the countries not only to develop their own national security policies but to participate in the global effort to improve human lives.

Works Cited

FAO, IFAD, UNICEF, WFP, and WHO. “The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World: Building Climate Resilience for Food Security and Nutrition”. World Food Program. 2018: Web.

Matthew, Richard A., Barnett, Jon, McDonald, Brian, and O’Brien, Karen L. (Eds.). Global Environmental Security. The MIT Press, 2010.

Naylor, Rosamond L. (Ed.). The Evolving Sphere of Food Security. Oxford University Press, 2014.

OHCHR. “The Right to Health”. OHCHR. 2008: Web.

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